Where Are You Coming From?
“Where are you coming from?”
“That's where you're making your entrance, but where are you coming from?”
“From the green room...?”
“No, I mean where is your character coming from?”
I remember the conversation like it was yesterday. I was standing alone, center-stage, with my hand shielding my eyes from the stage lights, trying to make out the silhouette of my college drama professor, who was seated in the fourth row of the otherwise empty house.
“Didn't you say to make my entrance from stage left? ”
“I gave that direction to you, the actor. But your character didn't come here from the wings. Where is she coming from? ”
“Oh... ” The light began to dawn.
“I guess she just left Billy. ”
“What were they doing? ”
“They were singing a love song...”
“Down by the lake...”
“What is she feeling?”
“Because she and Billy are in love.”
“All right. Now go back and make the entrance again.”
I had just been taught one of the most valuable lessons I would ever learn in the craft of acting. Know where you're coming from. In the moment before your entrance (or just before the lights come up if you are already on stage), picture what your character would be doing. Then bring the emotion or feeling on stage as you make your entrance. But that's not all I learned that night. At the end of the scene, the professor had me redo my exit two or three times as well.
“Where are you going?”
“You know what I mean.”
“I’m not sure where she’s going. She's not back onstage until the second act.”
“She's never ‘onstage.’ She’s in the garden, down by the lake or anywhere the action takes place in this production. But she is never onstage.”
“OK. I'm not back onstage until the second act. I don't know where she is between now and then. The script didn't say anything about what she's doing or where she is supposed to be.”
“Well, where do you think she's going? She's got to go somewhere.”
“Probably back to work? She's spent most of the day with Billy instead of getting her chores done.”
“So, how would you play that exit?”
“Maybe pause, then sigh-sort of a happy/sad sigh, then run off stage?”
“Back to the lodge, I guess.”
“Do that. Show me that.”
Audiences are smart. If you wait until your first line to start "acting," then that's all they will see - acting, that is. But if you want to be realistic, bring your character on stage with you. Before you say a word, make them notice how you carry yourself and what you convey through body language and facial expressions. They will want to know what your character is doing and thinking. By the time you deliver your first line, they will be, as the old expression goes, “hooked.” And, equally important, remember that the scene is never over until the exit or blackout is complete. Carry that emotion with you off stage. Imagine that you are really going where your character is going. You're asking the audience to use their imaginations...now use yours!